SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is hoping for easy reelection over Democratic state Rep. Jamie Smith on Tuesday amid speculation she is aiming to run for president in two years.
The 50-year-old Republican vaulted to national prominence within the GOP during her first term after she derided government mandates aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 infections. Her reelection campaign has focused on her handling of the state’s economy as well as a promise to convince the Legislature to repeal the state’s tax on groceries.
Noem has said she plans to stay in the governor’s office for a full second term, but she has also used the campaign cycle to develop a nationwide fundraising network and amass over $15 million — a historic amount of money for a South Dakota gubernatorial candidate.
Campaign season, however, got off to a rocky start for Noem as she came under the scrutiny of a state ethics board. In August, the board found evidence that Noem had interfered with a state agency to aid her daughter’s real estate appraisal licensure. The board also asked the state’s Division of Criminal Investigation to probe her use of the state’s airplane, but the prosecutor overseeing the investigation said last month it found nothing to support a criminal prosecution.
The governor has portrayed the complaints as political retribution from former Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, who filed them as he faced pressure from Noem to resign over his conduct surrounding a fatal car crash with a pedestrian in 2020.
Betty Ammann, a Republican voter, said she was grateful that South Dakota went without many government mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic. She voted for Noem.
“I just think she’s looking out for the best for our state,” Ammann, a nurse, said.
Smith criticized Noem’s out-of-state travels as a sign she is more focused on her personal ambition rather than the job at home. He cast himself as a moderate, focused on the state’s practical needs and touted a record of bipartisanship as the Democratic leader in the House.
But Smith struggled to raise enough money to compete with Noem.
In ad after ad, the governor labeled Smith an “extreme liberal” in an effort to peel away moderate voters — a group without which Smith couldn’t win. Republicans have nearly twice as many registered voters in South Dakota as Democrats, and in some places — including the state’s most populated county, Minnehaha — registered Democrats have slipped behind even independents.
Democrats have not won the governor’s office since the 1970s.
After Smith voted early Tuesday, he said he was encouraged to see a line at his regular polling place.
“I just want a really good voter turnout across the state,” he said. “The more people that vote the better it is for the state of South Dakota. Also, I think it helps my campaign.”